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Despite the evergreen theme, Julia’s whining is more likely to turn readers off than help them relate to her.

As soon as new neighbor Alyssa shows up, Taylor is mesmerized, leaving best friend Julia feeling threatened.

Immediately after 12-year-old Julia has bemoaned the boredom of hanging around her swimming pool with Taylor all summer, Alyssa enters the scene. Alyssa makes an unwelcome comment about Julia’s unicorn-themed T-shirt, so Julia makes fun of Russia, the ball game Alyssa has begun to teach Taylor. Thus begins an escalating conflict, fueled mostly by Alyssa’s cruelty and Taylor’s complicity, which peaks with Alyssa’s challenge to Julia to a one-on-one Russia tournament. Julia’s overbearing but “often right” mother quickly arranges for Julia to spend two weeks at music camp, where Julia partially recovers her sense of self. Before the final Russia showdown—postponed once by the emergence of 17-year cicadas—readers learn about less-than-cool Wendy, loyal to Julia but dandruff-blighted; Julia’s crush on her neighbor Peter; Julia’s first bra; and why Julia’s dream bedroom has been temporarily put on hold. The novel’s underlying tone of superiority, supported by the implicit assurance that life gets better for people who are “passionate about stuff,” is confirmed in the ending acknowledgments: “And an extra special thanks to the two girls who made my life on Albourne Avenue so miserable. Victory is mine.”

Despite the evergreen theme, Julia’s whining is more likely to turn readers off than help them relate to her. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7624-4948-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Running Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean.

A 12-year-old copes with a brain tumor.

Maddie likes potatoes and fake mustaches. Kids at school are nice (except one whom readers will see instantly is a bully); soon they’ll get to perform Shakespeare scenes in a unit they’ve all been looking forward to. But recent dysfunctions in Maddie’s arm and leg mean, stunningly, that she has a brain tumor. She has two surgeries, the first successful, the second taking place after the book’s end, leaving readers hanging. The tumor’s not malignant, but it—or the surgeries—could cause sight loss, personality change, or death. The descriptions of surgery aren’t for the faint of heart. The authors—parents of a real-life Maddie who really had a brain tumor—imbue fictional Maddie’s first-person narration with quirky turns of phrase (“For the love of potatoes!”) and whimsy (she imagines her medical battles as epic fantasy fights and pretends MRI stands for Mustard Rat from Indiana or Mustaches Rock Importantly), but they also portray her as a model sick kid. She’s frightened but never acts out, snaps, or resists. Her most frequent commentary about the tumor, having her skull opened, and the possibility of death is “Boo” or “Super boo.” She even shoulders the bully’s redemption. Maddie and most characters are white; one cringe-inducing hallucinatory surgery dream involves “chanting island natives” and a “witch doctor lady.”

Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean. (authors’ note, discussion questions) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62972-330-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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From the Shelby Holmes series , Vol. 1

A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff

A modern Sherlock Holmes retelling brings an 11-year-old black John Watson into the sphere of know-it-all 9-year-old white detective Shelby Holmes.

John's an Army brat who's lived in four states already. Now, with his parents' divorce still fresh, the boy who's lived only on military bases must explore the wilds of Harlem. His new life in 221A Baker St. begins inauspiciously, as before he's even finished moving in, his frizzy-haired neighbor blows something up: "BOOM!" But John's great at making friends, and Shelby certainly seems like an interesting kid to know. Oddly loquacious, brusque, and extremely observant, Shelby's locally famous for solving mysteries. John’s swept up in her detecting when a wealthy, brown-skinned classmate enlists their help in the mysterious disappearance of her beloved show dog, Daisy. Whatever could have happened to the prizewinning Cavalier King Charles spaniel? Has she been swiped by a jealous competitor? Has Daisy’s trainer—mysteriously come into enough money to take a secret weekend in Cozumel—been placing bets against his own dog? Brisk pacing, likable characters, a few silly Holmes jokes ("I'm Petunia Cumberbatch," says Shelby while undercover), and a diverse neighborhood, carefully and realistically described by John, are ingredients for success.

A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff . (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68119-051-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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